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Just how much training do the cops who stop you with a radar gun have?

When a Beaufort County Sheriff's deputy clocks a potential speeder with a radar gun, Sheriff P.J. Tanner wants to make sure that officer knows what he's doing.

"Historically, radar has been challenged by anyone who's ever gotten a ticket," he said. "They say, 'Oh, you must have gotten the car in front in me or the one behind me.'"

Training can eliminate such doubts, according to Tanner.

"If that ticket goes to court, you'll know that you recorded the speed of the violator and not an oak tree or a fence post. The deputy can testify before a jury or a judge as to how to operate, calibrate and read that piece of equipment."

Tanner requiresallhis deputies to complete a free, three-day course at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia to become state-certified in the use of speed detection equipment, including radar and lidar, radar's laser-based cousin.

Not all police agencies in Beaufort County require their officers to take the course, and state law does not require that officers undergo such training.

"You have an instrument that assists law enforcement in detecting the speed of a potential violator and the officer issuing a citation to the violator that affects the points on their license, their insurance and their pocketbooks," Tanner said. "It's important that those folks are trained how to use that equipment."

Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister said his officers are required to undergo the training, but that they don't go to Columbia to receive it.

One of his officers is certified through the police academy to teach it, so the Bluffton officers are trained by him.

The Port Royal Police Department and S.C. Highway Patrol also require their officers to take the class, but Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said not all of the city's 30-plus officers are state-certified to use radar.

"Not all of our officers go through the three-day training course," Clancy said. "All officers that use radar that do not go through the three-day course go through in-house training in the proper operation and maintenance of the units. The policy that we use for the operation and training on the radars meets all of the standards set by (the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies)."

Joshua Mintz of Beaufort said he was surprised to learn that state law didn't require officers to become certified to operate the equipment used to write tickets like the one he received last month in the Columbia area.

"It just seems like it'd be a good idea to have all of the officers in the state trained the same way," he said as he gassed up Friday at the Shell station on Trask Parkway. "It's good to know though. Maybe now I have a chance of beating that ticket."

Patrick McLoughlin, a Florence defense attorney whooften is hired to argue traffic tickets, said the fact that an officer isn't state-certified to operate radar doesn't mean a judge will automatically throw out the ticket.

"In theory it would help you, but as a practical matter, it's unimportant because officers don't often use the training they receive anyway," he said. "It's like a DUI case. You have a machine that utilizes scientific principles to take measurements and that's often the crux of the state's case. They have to preserve evidence to allow us to attack the key witness -- that machine.

"The only time I get folks willing to pay me to argue these tickets is when it's the principle of the matter and they're really mad or when they have something to lose, like points on their license or their insurance," he said.

Island Packet reporter Renee Dudley contributed to this report

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